Planning an al fresco reception would seem a safe decision for summer in sunny San Diego, but Ellen Scripps and Peter Kaheny were faced with inclement weather the week of their wedding. “Rain in San Diego in July!” Ellen exclaims. “First time I ever saw that in my life.” Having based their choice of venues on the long-standing association between the family of the bride and the San Diego Zoo, an exotic celebration beneath the sky was the intended design for the day. As luck would have it, the skies cleared with time to spare, and the plans for the couple’s nuptials unfolded without flaw.

The location of the religious ceremony was of special importance to the groom, so per Peter’s request, a historic Catholic church on the campus of the University of San Diego served as the house of worship for the nuptial mass. Influenced by Spanish architecture, the breathtaking exterior of The Immaculata featured a mosaic dome, magnificent bell tower, and a door made of solid bronze. The interior’s barrel-vaulted ceiling reached heights of 105 feet above the sanctuary dome, and marble pillars and floors contributed to the grand scale and ambiance of the magnificent setting.

Attendants in vibrant two-toned gowns provided contrast for the bride, who walked down the aisle in a stunning tiered gown of bright white chiffon. The bridal bouquet featured cascading dendrobium orchids, gardenias, and roses, varieties that were reflected in the white aisle and altar arrangements. As the formal ceremony began, one of the diminutive flower girls provided a charming moment of levity. “Just as Ellen’s father raised the bridal veil, her niece yelled out, ‘Yay!’” Peter fondly recalls. Designed to mirror the Catholic wedding of the parents of the bride, the ceremony incorporated the custom of Mexican wedding coins. Using the same gold arras that Ellen’s father once presented to her mother, Peter poured 13 coins into the hands of his bride, symbolizing his unquestionable devotion. After the couple exchanged vows, the lazo that was used at the marriage of Ellen’s parents was draped around the shoulders of the bride and groom to symbolize their union and the protection of marriage.

The reception that followed at the world-famous park was distinct in style from the formal ceremony. Animal-shaped topiaries dotted the festive décor, and tables featured vivid floral displays in bright shades of pink, orange, yellow, and purple. Chocolate-hued tablecloths were paired with cerulean napkins set on clear glass plates rimmed delicately in gold. The perimeter of the reception area was lined with colorful murals of wildlife, and the grounds were carpeted with faux greenery. The cake featured a bright cascade of violet and orange orchids, and the table on which it stood was dressed in additional tropical flowers.

As evening fell, light displays and glowing cubes lit the area surrounding the custom dance floor where loved ones celebrated to live music. Guests also climbed aboard the zoo’s Skyfari® aerial tram for a ride across the park to enjoy the city lights while sipping Champagne. “That is the memory that everyone who attended the wedding lists as their number-one recollection,” asserts the groom. Attendees took home their choice of unique wedding favors, ranging from animal-shaped bottle stoppers and corkscrew key chains for adults to light sticks shaped like elephants for the children. A blend of tradition and innovation, the wedding reflected a sense of joy throughout the day and into the festive night.